One of the questions I am routinely asked is, “How much time do we need for photos?” Creating a schedule for your day, or a wedding timeline, is something you should spend some time thinking about. There is no right or wrong way to make a schedule, but I’ll share a few tips to make sure your wedding day runs smoothly.

Start with the Ceremony – This is the one thing you can’t really be flexible with. The wedding ceremony time really dictates when all of the other events should and can occur.

What time should your ceremony start? The perfect time (in my opinion) is between 2-4 pm. The exact time will probably be dictated by your church/venue. But a wedding around 2 give enough time for a ceremony, family photos, bridal party pictures, and a return to your party at dinner time. You don’t want to starve your guests by serving dinner at 8 pm, and you don’t want to start the food too early.

For this example, let’s say your ceremony will start at 3:00 pm. From the ceremony time, we’ll move backwards and plan the morning.

If your wedding starts at 3, ushers should start seating guests at 2:30. So, the guys will need to be in place by 2:20. I like to get my gear ready for the ceremony and get pictures of guests arriving, so you should be finished with all pre-wedding photos/getting ready by 2:30. It’s nice to have 30 minutes to relax before you walk down the aisle. It’s also nice to have a half hour of extra time in case of an emergency (like a flat tire…and yes, I’ve seen this…many times.)

How long does it take to get from your hair/makeup location to the church? Let’s say 20 minutes for this example. So, you’ll need to leave for the church at 2:10.

Are you having a first look? If so, it’s nice to have about 30 minutes for that and some pictures together. So, a first look could happen at 1:30.

Moving back from that, if you want posed pictures of you with the girls, parents, etc., leave 20-30 minutes for that. (That puts us at 1 pm). At this point you’ll have to ask your hair dresser/makeup artist how long they need with the amount of people in your bridal party. And don’t forget to schedule lunch into your day. As nervous as you may be, it’s really important to eat on your wedding day.

Each situation will be different, but this is a good schedule for the morning.

And we are back at 2:00…time to get married! Let’s say for this example that your ceremony will last 30 minutes. You kiss your new husband and walk down the aisle as husband and wife, and the time is now 2:40, because NO wedding starts on time.

Should we have a receiving line?

What is a receiving line? A receiving line is the activity your parents probably had at the end of their wedding. Basically, the wedding party stands in a line and the back of the church, and as the guests leave, the wedding party says hello, hugs, kisses, talks to each person as they exit the church.

Is this a bad thing? No. But, here is the important thing to consider. Let’s say you have a wedding with 200 guests, and you want to have a recieveing line. If you spend 20 seconds saying hello to each guest (which really isn’t that long), it will take 67 minutes to get everyone out of the church. If you spend 10 seconds with each guest, it will still take over a half hour.

I’m not trying to encourage nor discourage you, I’m just letting you know that receiving lines can take a lot of time, so make sure you plan your schedule accordingly.

What if we don’t want a receiving line?

If you don’t want a receiving line, you have a few options. When you walk down the aisle after the first kiss, you and your new husband can “hide” in the church basement or a side room as guests exit. If you are visible, the guests will attack you like bees on honey. You are a rockstar on your wedding day, and everyone will want to talk to you! So, if you are out of sight, the guests will exit without incident.

It is important to tell the guests how to exit. In some weddings, the ushers dismiss each row one by one. Sometimes the bride and groom dismiss each row. (Again, this takes some time.) The important thing is that you tell the guests what to do. In large groups, people are like lost sheep…they don’t know what to do unless they are told.

You could put a note in your program like, “Please wait for the ushers to dismiss your row at the end of our ceremony.”

Once the guests are out of the church, there are a few options. You can exit the church as the crowd throws rice/birdseed or blows bubbles, or you can just come back in the church for the formal family photos. Again, it’s important to tell the guests what to do.

For the sake of our example wedding, let’s say it is now 3:30, you are married, and the guests are heading to the cocktail hour.

It’s time for some family photos!

What are “the formals?” The formals are the posed family photos that we take right after the ceremony, usually in the church (or altar area). Do people enjoy this part of the day? Usually not. Is it important? YES!

Waiting to have your name called is not fun for guests (who may be hot because the church has no AC) or kids who are probably over tired and hungry. We try to make this part of the day go as fast as possible.

The most important thing you can do is provide your photographer with a list of formal photos you want. With a list, we can assure that nobody gets forgotten, and it makes the process very fast.

I suggest to make your list in order that you want them taken. For example, start with older people/grandparents so once they are done, they can leave. Then schedule any large families, or extended family members with little kids. Save the bridal party pictures for last.

The formal picture session should take no more than 30 minutes. At the tone, the time will be 4:00 pm. (Bing)

Now what? Usually, most bridal parties will take a trip to a secnic location for some bridal party pictures. If your bridal party is relatively small (10ish people), it may be possible to include two or even three locations for photos. If you bridal party is very large, I suggest sticking to one location. Large groups are hard to move around…especially if the festivities have begun in the limo (if you know what I mean).

These photos with travel time should take no more than an hour. That puts our schedule at 5:00.

Some couples want to be back for cocktail hour, and others don’t mind missing it. These decisions are completely up to the two of you.

It is now “DINNER TIME.”

The rest of the day is all downhill. Once the party starts, there are a few things to think about schedule-wise:

When should you have your first dance? Some couples like to have their first dance right after they are introduced into the reception. The nice thing about this is that the guests will all pay attention.

Some couples also cut the cake directly after their first dance. Again, people will pay attention. Once the guests are fed and start drinking, it’s hard to capture their complete attention as a group.

The rest of your evening, you’ll want to schedule with your DJ or band. Things like the father/daughter dance, mother/son dance, etc., can be flexible. Make sure your wedding professionals know details about traditional wedding activities that you may or may not want. (Dollar dance? Garter toss? Boquet toss? Fireworks? Other surprise moments?)

And your wedding schedule is complete. I hope I gave you a few things to think about. In the hundreds of weddings I’ve photographed, I’ve never, ever seen a schedule that didn’t work. Remember that you will be surrounded with people who love you and will want to help if something weird happens (like a power outage…seen it…covered it). If you have any questions, feel free to give me a call (716.241.9856) or drop me an email. I love talking about schedules. 🙂

Happy Planning!